Lesson's I've Learned From Tragedy
By: Adrian Glacca
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Tragedy in life is inevitable, but how we choose to deal with the pain is on us. Throughout life, we are tested and tried with terrible and upsetting misfortunes. It is during these moments that we are in fact breaking new and uncovered barriers of our potential. In these moments it seems like life comes to a complete halt. Our minds and bodies still, we focus on the pain and sorrow of the present moment. We may never be quite aware and in-tune with our emotions and thoughts than during these tough times.
In Milhaly Csikszentihalyi's national bestseller 'Flow' he quotes Samuel Johnson by saying,
"When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, he concentrates his mind wonderfully."
He goes on to summarize;
"A major catastrophe that frustrates a central goal in life will either destroy the self, forcing a person to use all his psychic energy to erect a barrier around remaining goals, defending them against further onslaughts of fate; or it will provide a new, more clear, and urgent goal: to overcome the challenges created by the defeat."
In my personal experiences of tragedy, I chose to deal with my pain in different ways. Some more damaging than others. When I lost Lindsey to a tragic bike accident, it was the first time I lost someone that I was emotionally invested in. The bond we created together was very strong and during the time we spent together I look back on it as some of the purest moments of undiscovered happiness.
I spent some time uncovering the old emails and messages we would share with each other to understand more about who I was during that time. What I discovered was sad, but enlightening. During Lindsey's time away in Honduras, we would correspond as often as possible, as long as the generator at her base camp in the jungle was running. We would get half hour intervals to chat before the conversations ended, so we made the most of that time to connect very deeply.
I began to notice some particular traits about Lindsey that I truly admired and which have had an incredible impact on the personality I've developed into. Lindsey was always curious to know how my life was, more than anything else. I could tell it was almost difficult for her to talk about herself. She would never start a conversation saying, 'How are you?', instead, she would be incredibly specific in wanting to know a particular part of my life, often linking it to a previous conversation.
This alone showed me how much she truly cared about me and knowing I had someone in my life who showed this level of connection would bring me these uncontrollable bursts of happiness whenever we spoke. Another admirable trait that I noticed in her writing was her childlike appreciation for everything. Her time spent in Honduras catching bats and swimming under waterfalls was by every definition of the word an adventure. She looked at the world curiously and seemed to connect with the simplest things in a way others wouldn't. Lindsey would talk about the brightest stars at night, the tranquility of the rain and thunderstorms. She would comment about the insects and critters that would move on the jungles surface at night and would sleep in a hammock or uncovered by the fire. During all this time I never once heard a complaint. Though the showers were cold and the mosquitos a bloody annoyance, she always shared the positive experiences. One particular conversation will show us the extent of her frustrations and how she chose to overcome these prevailing thoughts.
"So, last night was definitely not my night!. lol I got chewed on by the tiniest little bitch of a bat I've ever seen. It was sooo pissed off! It was like half the size of my thumb but it put a pretty significant hole in my finger. It stings too! And now there's all this drama because I need a rabies booster, but I'm leaving tomorrow for Guanales and blah blah. Lol buuut! The most amazing storm rolled in last night! It was this huge scary storm front that just took over the whole sky and the lightning was sooo crazy! It was really cool to watch, the bat team and I all sat out in the field drinking rum and watching the storm come in. That was definitely sweet, so I guess it wasn't that bad an evening :) I start teaching tonight, which I'm kind of worried about lol. I got here and one of the girls in all my classes at Guelph was one of my volunteers!! lol I have to teach one of my own classmates... brutal :P"
I remember reading this while watching TV with my parents and I was completely shocked about how comfortable she was with being bitten by a bat. I couldn't believe it. I would share this with my parents who would later freak out wondering every day if she had gone to the hospital. What I admire most about this particular comment is how she chose to focus her energy on something more positive and wonderful like a regularly occurring rain storm. Drinking rum and spending time with friends ended up as not that bad of an evening. When I would later ask Lindsey if she ended up going to the hospital she would respond by saying;
"and no!! nothing about the bite. Last year I would have gotten a booster right away, but this year they're just assuming I don't have rabies lol ...
... if i start fearing water, you'll know that I actually did get bit by a rabies bat!"
Call her crazy, but this is what I admired most about her. She would only ever focus on the positives and that attitude would affect everyone around her. These are traits that I would later learn to develop into my own personality, but only after she passed.
When Lindsey died, my life crashed. I didn't understand how to cope with the emotion and would develop a cognitive control of burying my emotions. I felt uncomfortable sharing my thoughts and feelings because I felt all alone. No one seemed to understand the pain I was going through. The decisions I made in the months following her death, I chose to find every and any way of distracting my mind. I would go out with friends on weekends partying, drinking and smoking heavily. I would work trying to block out any thoughts of her.
This led me to an unfamiliar place in my life. A state of depression that so many young people are becoming accustomed to. Confused, I prayed. Over the years leading up to Lindsey's death, I've become less and less invested in my raised Catholic religion, but during these moments I had no other choice. I prayed and prayed for a better life, a life filled with the love and happiness that I had when with her. It seemed that those were just hopeless desires and that this would be the end of any ambition or success I had before.
As the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi stated above, I chose to use my psychic energy on destroying myself. Bringing me further down a path that only led to more darkness. I realize that in these dark and depressing moments if I wanted to change my situation I would have to change my mindset and the way I control my thoughts.
I began thinking about the way Lindsey lived her life. The lessons I could learn from someone who understood how to enjoy the most out of life. So I made a promise to each other.
"I promise to live the fullest life for the both of us"
This one mantra is what brought me out and set me on a path towards discovery and growth of who I am and my potential within. I would constantly repeat this to remind me that I need to change. I made a promise and I wasn't going to let her down.
What happened next was something I could have never expected. This one shift in mindset would change my life forever. It sparked in me a drive, a desire to achieve what I wanted most in life. It made my life more clear, and set an urgency to make the most of the time I have here.
Someone so full of potential and greatness had her life cut short. She would never be able to graduate, she would never pursue her fulfilling career of research, she would never get married and have children. However, she lived simply, laughed often, and loved generously. She would teach me that our time in life is short and in order to make the most of it, you have to care for others and give wanting nothing in return.
This has been to this day my life's greatest tragedy, but it has also been a positively transformative experience that I admire very deeply. Every so often I think about what our lives would be like if she still lived, but what I do know is that because of Lindsey and the messages she left me with, it would lead me on a path that could allow me to understand the world and give me the courage to do my best to help others.
The stoic philosopher Seneca writes;
"The good things which belong to prosperity are to be wished, but the good things that belong to adversity are to be admired."
The ability to overcome tragedy is a skill and a mindset. No two situations are the same, and everyone deals with these moments differently, but what is known is that we can always choose. We can allow ourselves to fall into the easy traps of feeling sorry for ourselves, replaying or burying harmful emotions. Or, we can look to change our lives so we can look back on these moments as an obstacle we chose to overcome. This shift in mindset will make us stronger and give us the courage and urgency to live life to its fullest potential.
Our only photo together.
Te Extrano <3